Unique: Senator Gillibrand has prolonged the safety of the Civil Rights Act to US troops
© Reuters. The US Senator Chuck Schumer and the US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand comment on the coronavirus disease
By Phil Stewart
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Senator Kirsten Gillibrand says she will work with colleagues on legislation that gives U.S. forces the same legal protection against discrimination as civilian employees. A move that advocates advocate could be critical for minorities in the American armed forces.
The efforts of Gillibrand, expected to lead a Senate subcommittee on U.S. military personnel, follow a 2020 Reuters investigation at https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/usa-military -civilrights, which shows that US troops were far less likely to file racial discrimination complaints than their civilian counterparts.
This despite data from a long-held Pentagon survey https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-military-civilrights-exclusive/exclusive-long-withheld-pentagon-survey-shows-widespread-racial-discrimination – harassment-idUSKBN29J1N1, in which nearly a third of black soldiers and a significant percentage of Asian and Hispanic soldiers experience racial harassment, discrimination, or both. The poll was first reported by Reuters last week.
"Disturbing new data shows that our service members suffer from a lack of meaningful protection of civil rights, while their civilian counterparts in the Department of Defense and across government have robust rights enshrined in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act," Gillibrand told Reuters.
Gillibrand, a longtime advocate of women in the military who campaigned for reform to combat sexual assault in the ranks, added that it has been "a long time since Congress acted."
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from discriminating against workers based on race, color, national origin, gender, or religion.
However, the U.S. government has long claimed that military personnel do not fall within the scope of Title VII because they are technically not federal employees, which the courts uphold. Instead, troops have a separate system for lodging complaints about discrimination.
Any move to extend Title VII guarantees to the troops could potentially benefit women, lesbian, gay, and transgender soldiers who suffer from gender discrimination.
Don Christensen, who served as the Air Force's attorney general, said extending Title VII protection to U.S. troops would be a major change that could affect anything from reviewing a discrimination complaint to whether troops like civilians can seek monetary damages .
"It would be a big deal," said Christensen, who worked on the Protect Our Defenders advocacy group to expose discrimination in the military.
"Right now. There is no way for military personnel to receive monetary damages … and there is no external review. Everything is done in-house."
EARLY TEST FOR MANDATORY MANAGEMENT
It is unclear what the prospect of such a legislative push at the deeply divided Congress would be, and Reuters was not given any details on the timing or potential co-sponsors of the Senate.
But any move to change the legal status of US troops reporting discrimination could represent an early test for retired Army General Lloyd Austin, who would become the first black Secretary of Defense if ultimately ratified by Congress.
Like President-elect Joe Biden, Austin is committed to improving diversity. Https://twitter.com/LloydAustin/status/1349010055094562818?s=20 in the Ministry of Defense, which is different in the lower ranks but predominantly white and male above. Given the special demands placed on the armed forces in times of war, military policy has long prioritized the internal handling of disciplinary matters.
Gillibrand said she was hoping to have a hearing on the matter.
"I will press for a hearing on this racial justice crisis and work with civil rights groups and other members of Congress to develop legislation to extend Title VII to members of the military," said Gillibrand.
Although the US military has policies outlawing unlawful discrimination, US forces are deeply skeptical that it will be worth filing a complaint under the military equality system, Reuters has found. They also fear backlash.
Data obtained from Reuters https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/usa-military-civilrights shows that civilian Defense Department employees file far more complaints than US troops, even though uniformed soldiers are far superior to them.
Only 71 seafarers officially complained of race or skin color discrimination in 2019, a sixth as many as the 404 complaints filed by, for example, the navy's smaller civilian population.
A November memo, unreported by the Congressional Research Service, recognized that comparing harassment and discrimination rates with the number of complaints "is an indicator of service members' confidence in the fairness and accountability of the reporting process could".